Tucked away inside Holiday Inn Statesboro, located just off the Highway 301 Bypass, sits an unassuming and pleasant surprise, a dining experience most travel outside of town to achieve. This secluded piece of Statesboro paradise known as Emma’s Restaurant and Lounge boasts understated elegance, a local head chef with humble beginnings whose food packs a flavorful punch and a skilled bartender unafraid to experiment.
Not long ago, I was invited to sample the new dinner menu developed by 23-year-old Executive Chef Patrick White and his team. Our meal began with a well thought out cheese board, or “Fromage Plate” featuring Grand Cru Reserve, Finley Blue Cheese and Fontina paired with dried apricots, fresh fruit, walnuts and large water crackers. Accouterments also included house made three berry jam and local truffle honey. My fiance, Kurt, joined me for the meal, and we ordered the Cajun fried oysters served with spicy aioli and a roasted garlic and herb creme fraiche too, because I was intrigued. Crispy on the outside with a subtle kick, one bite expanded my palate and left me wanting more.
As we waited to taste the next course, I sipped on a signature cocktail from the bar…this electric Pink Lemonade. It was bright and refreshing made with freshly squeezed lemon and Van Gogh pomegranate vodka.
Before White wore the coveted and hard-earned white chef’s coat he sports proudly today, he gained appreciation for the industry by working as a Waffle House line cook while attending the Culinary Arts Program at Ogeechee Technical College. Born and raised in Statesboro, he graduated from Southeast Bulloch High School. He later got a job at Emma’s as a dishwasher, and in less than two years, climbed his way up the ladder all the while training under former Emma’s Chef Jason Scarboro. Ain’t that America? I have mad respect for his ambition, dedication and will to succeed. Amazing what working hard and dreaming big will do for you!
The soup and salad course didn’t disappoint. Emma’s sources many of their ingredients locally and prides themselves on good relationships with area farmers and purveyors.
Kurt ordered the Local Shrimp & Grits. This $17 entree is made with andouille sausage, red onion, red bell pepper, madeira wine cream sauce and spicy onion tangles. The edible orchid was a fun touch! Beautiful presentation.
I ordered the $23 Grilled Angus Ribeye served with an Idaho and sweet potato hash with exotic mushrooms, topped with a cherry tomato and herb reduction. That was one really big steak, and I was extremely thankful for to-go boxes.
At Emma’s you can order sides for sharing. We opted for the garlic and herb sautéed Bacon Braised Brussel Sprouts and the Herb Encrusted Bleu Cheese Mac & Cheese.
Throughout the evening, White checked in frequently to see how we were doing and if we were enjoying the meal. He circulated around the restaurant taking care of his guests and thanking them for coming. I overheard a couple in the booth behind us say they’d driven from Richmond Hill, a community near Savannah, Georgia about 57 miles away, to try out the new menu. What a testament to the quality of service, food and reputation of Emma’s!
Because we couldn’t hold another thing, we ordered one dessert to-go and split it the next day. The chocolate cake was moist and decadent, served with fresh whipped cream and strawberries.
Thank you Chef White for an exquisite meal and for your undeniable attention to detail and eye-catching presentation with each plate you served. But mostly, thank you for serving us a meal with passion from your heart. You made a lasting impression, and your food was only the beginning.